Sown when it looked profitable, potato has become a loss-maker in the selling season after hitting a sudden price slump because of glut. Untimely rain already has damaged 5 to 7% of the crop in the region.
At the time of sowing, potato had price that had shot up to Rs 1,600 per quintal, encouraging farmers to increase the crop acreage. To their disappointment, the price now has plummeted to Rs 200 per quintal in the selling season. The farmers of Jalandhar and Kapurthala, who export potato to Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, are left searching for buyers this year.
Their soaring expectations led to surplus production in the region. The demand is nowhere near supply and there’s not enough space in the cold storages to hold all this harvested potato. The farmers are desperate to sell the crops for any price. “So far, I have sold only about 5% of total potato harvested from 350 acres, for just `500 per quintal. Nobody’s is willing to buy the rest for even `200 per quintal,” said Kapurthala farmer Kuldeep Singh.
Last year, the farmers had not enough to meet the market demand, and when they increased the acreage, now dealers aren’t interested. Potato price nosedived over the past two months after the government put a ban on exporting the vegetable to other countries to control food inflation. It only helped create a glut.
Along with the price of potato, the cost of its seed was also at its peak at the time of sowing. Farmer Jaswant Singh had to pay `1,700 for a 50-kilogram bag of seeds then. “All the inputs such as seed, irrigation, labour, pesticides, and fuel would together not have cost less than `80,000 per acre,” he said. He grew potato on about 150 acres. “If I harvested 100 quintals of potato from 1 acre, I’ll make only `20,000 on the market, and my minimum loss will be `55,000 per acre. If we keep our harvest in cold storage, the cost per acre will jump to `1 lakh, and our loss to `75,000 per acre,” he said.
Potato trader Hardeep Singh said as the production was surplus even in the other states, the buying cycle had been disturbed. “If there are no buyers, why will the dealers stock the crop to rot in the cold storages?” he said. However, horticulture development officer Sukhdip Singh Hundal said even with all the overproduction in Punjab this year, the price should not have declined so steeply.
“It seems that dealers are not buying the crop deliberately, to force farmers to sell the crop for a lesser price,” the officer analysed.